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Food Fight: America’s Changing Diet and Its Consequences

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, September 1, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0111
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Since the end of WWII, the way that Americans eat has changed radically. The country transformed from relying on a relatively wholesome and nourishing food system to a daily diet laden with fats, sugar, and ultra-processed unhealthy foods. One trillion dollars a year is spent in our healthcare system to combat diet-related diseases. Despite this, 6 in 10 American deaths can be attributed to diet-related causes. But it wasn’t always this way.

Historian Allen Pietrobon, an assistant professor of global affairs at Trinity Washington University, traces the changes in American cuisine since 1945, highlighting a few key events that radically changed how and what Americans eat. He explores how the race riots of the 1960s led to a government policy that helped fast-food restaurants proliferate in inner-city neighborhoods; how government actions meant to alleviate economic problems of the 1970s led to far more meat and highly processed foods being added to our diets; and how an alliance among the U.S. government, ad agencies, and major food corporations helped to transform America into what food writer Greg Crister calls “the fattest nation on earth.”

He also examines how food has become more politicized over the past 70 years, with kale, quinoa, and other “healthy” foods being seen as elitist and liberal, while fast-food burgers were served to guests of the White House in 2019 as nod to what “real” Americans want to eat. He looks at the consequences of this dinner-table divide, and how with the rise of appealing meat substitutes and a renewed focus on eating healthier, a new generation of Americans is pushing back against an ultra-industrialized food system.

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